March 25, 2023

Homily Two on the Annunciation of the Theotokos (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered in 1948)

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

An ineffable light illuminated the world on this blessed day, the day of the revelation of the deepest mystery, proclaimed at the beginning of the ages to the primordial people by God Himself at the expulsion of them from paradise:  “The seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent.” To this blessed Woman, whose seed was to bruise the head of the serpent, the holy Archangel Gabriel was sent from heaven; was sent in order to announce to Her that the time had come for the fulfillment of the deepest, mysterious prophecy of Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, which means: God is with us” (Is. 7:14).

The holy Archangel appeared with fear before the One Whom God had chosen from the whole human race, he appeared with an amazing, extraordinary greeting: “Rejoice, you who are full of grace! The Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:29). He called her full of grace... Which woman was ever called "grace", and the holy Angel called her "full of grace".

"Blessed are you among women" (Luke 1:28). Of all the women that have ever been, that ever will be, She alone is blessed. The greeting is wonderful, amazing. How did the Blessed Virgin react to him? She was embarrassed by his words and wondered what kind of greeting it would be. How could one not be embarrassed, hearing such extraordinary words, hearing that She was placed on an unattainable height above all people, that God was with Her, that She was full of grace. But She was silent, as she had always been silent in Her life, and Her silence was a holy silence.

Her lips were always sealed with the seal of blessed and holy silence. When the One about whom the Archangel now proclaimed was born from Her in the cave of Bethlehem, when the wondrous prophecy was fulfilled, She was also silent, did not emit cries of joy and jubilation, and when the shepherds, and later the wise men from the East, came to worship the Infant born from Her, when She heard that the holy angels announced to them about the birth of the Savior of the world, She was silent and only kept these amazing words in Her heart. Even when She came with the holy elder Joseph the Betrothed and Her Son, twelve-year-old Jesus, to the temple of Jerusalem for worship, and Jesus remained unnoticed in the temple, and not finding Him, they had to return from the path and searched for Him in the city for three days; even when She heard words that no one could utter except the Son of God: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49), - She was silent, but She kept these amazing words in her heart. Even when She stood at the Cross of Golgotha, seeing the terrible torment of Her Son, She did not cry out, did not sob, as is characteristic of the weak heart of a woman. She was silent. In mournful silence She looked at Her Son, while Her heart was torn by such terrible suffering, which people do not know. She was silent...

She was silent even now, and only pondered what a strange greeting this was.

The Angel of God said to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God; and behold, you shall conceive in the womb, and you shall bear a Son, and you shall call his name: Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father; he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

What can be more amazing than the foreshadowing that one should be born from Her, who will be called the Son of the Most High, that He will reign over the house of Israel forever and ever? But why did he precede these words with Her reassurance: “Do not be afraid, Mary”? She was not afraid of him, as every mortal would be afraid of seeing an Angel. She was not afraid of him, for she herself was the Most Holy of Holies. She knew this in the depths of her heart. Perhaps it was revealed to Her from God that She would be more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. She was not afraid of him, She only listened to his words with humility, with surprise. Why did he say, "Do not be afraid"? So that what he foretold should have filled Her heart with fear.

“How will I be the mother of the One who will be called the Son of the Most High? How shall I be the mother of Him who shall inherit the throne of his father David?” Isn't it fearful, shouldn't Her heart tremble when She heard such words?

That's why the Archangel said: "Do not be afraid, Mary." No matter how great, no matter how terrible what will happen to You, do not be afraid. And Mary's heart was at peace, but She asked: "How will it be when I don't know my husband?" (Luke 1:34).

This is a natural, perfectly natural question: “How can I, the Pure and Immaculate Virgin, how can I be a Mother? Tell me, explain to Me." This question of the Holy Virgin serves as the greatest proof of Her purity, Her ever-virginity, for She herself testified that although she lives in the house of Joseph, who was named Her husband, She does not know her husband, he is not Her husband, but the guardian of Her virginity. She had long, long ago given God a vow of eternal virginity, and Joseph the Betrothed could not help but know this. According to the law of Moses, no vow of an unmarried woman was valid unless confirmed by her father, and no vow of a married woman was valid unless confirmed and verified by her husband. Joseph knew this law, he could not help but know about the vow of the Virgin Mary and approved it. Remember, there are those who dare to doubt the ever-virginity of the Mother of Christ.

What did the Angel answer Her to this so understandable, so natural question? He answered with words that plunge us into amazement and awe: “The Holy Spirit will come upon You, and the power of the Most High will overshadow You” (Luke 1:35). Let all those who, in the pride of their mind, in their commitment to the ordinary, to the natural, do not want to believe in the Virgin Birth of the Savior by the Blessed Virgin Mary remember this, let them remember that the Angel himself said this.

This is incomprehensible. Well, is there not enough of what is mysterious and incomprehensible in nature and in our life? Infinitely, infinitely much is incomprehensible, endlessly much is mysterious, unknown to us, that which we can never unravel and will never be known by the very nature of the mysterious and by the limitations of our mind. Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow of blessed memory said deep words about how one should treat the mysterious and incomprehensible: “Do you encounter the incomprehensible in faith? Do not rush to inquire or contradict, but listen in silence to the word of faith and patiently wait for the time when the one who speaks in parables will honor you with an explanation of these by word and experience."

Reverence and humility are required in order to bow one's proud head before the incomprehensible, before the mysterious. They say: “What kind of miracle is this Virgin Birth? Miracles don't happen." And the ancient great hierarch and deep thinker Blessed Augustine said very wise words: “The miracle is not in conflict with nature, but with our knowledge of nature.” And our knowledge of nature is extremely small, no matter how great it seems to us. And if we find anything that seems contrary to the laws of nature, we must not boldly declare it impossible.

So, humbly lowering her head, the Most Holy Archangel Gabriel listened.

What shall I say to those who do not wish to be humble, to those who believe only in science; what shall I say to those of you who have received a natural science education and do not want to believe what is contrary to the facts established by natural science? I will tell them: “When you first became acquainted with the doctrine of parthenogenesis — the reproduction of unisexual plants and lower animals — were you not struck by such an unusual and drastic exception to the laws of nature, according to which all creatures reproduce sexually?”

But soon the amazement passed. Science says: “This is a fact, so this is true,” and surprise calmed down, and doubt subsided. Ask those who are familiar with the science of embryology, which studies how the embryo develops in the mother's womb: is it clear to them by what forces the amazing processes of turning an egg into a living organism take place? Can scientists say that embryology is capable of explaining those mysteries that are produced by the power of the Divine - in the womb, when a new living being is born? Let them explain how the human spirit arises in the womb. They don't know how to explain it, and they never will.

You know that conception occurs by combining two germ cells: seed and egg. You know that these cells are microscopically small. Explain how microscopic germ cells merged together can contain all the immeasurable, incalculable wealth of those physical and mental properties that are inherited by that creature that develops from one fertilized egg cell. Let them explain how everything can fit in this small space: all physical, bodily properties, and all the habits, manners of a father or mother transmitted to their children. How and where can the spiritual properties that children inherit from their parents fit in this space?

I will say that this is an incomprehensible mystery. For us who believe in God, it is clear and understandable that everything is created by God and is governed by the laws given by Him. The Holy Spirit reigns over everything: everything in the world is created, everything happens, everything lives only by the action of the Holy Spirit. And if the Holy Spirit established those laws that science studies, then why should we not believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit immeasurably more can be accomplished than what science knows? Isn't the Creator of the world free and powerful to change the very laws of nature? Oh, of course He can, of course He can!

Let us bow with deep faith before the words of the Archangel Gabriel to the Holy Virgin: “The Holy Spirit will come upon You, and the power of the Most High will overshadow You: therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” Precisely because it was a birth by the power and influx of the Holy Spirit, precisely because the Holy One being born will be called the Son of God.

This is what the world has heard on this blessed day. This is what the holy Archangel proclaimed. This is how the greatest work of saving the human race began. This is how the Conception of the Lord Jesus Christ took place in the immaculate womb of the Virgin Mary.

Let us also imitate Her holy silence; let us close our mouths when words of unbelief, words of doubt, are asked from our lips; let us be silent as the Blessed Virgin knew how to be silent. Let us believe with all our hearts in the Virgin Birth of the Lord Jesus and with all our hearts glorify the Holy Virgin, the Most Pure Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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